By Tyson Thorne

August 13, 2019

John 34 Large

There is no greater darkness that descends upon a person's life than the death of a loved one. There is a very real understanding that comes from the soul that the loved one will not be there any longer. There is an anticipation of missing them, even though it may be to early to actually do so. There is a grief from the loss of fellowship. Only in the account of the death of Lazarus do the Scriptures record — twice — that Jesus was greatly moved. He even weeps. The One who knows what happens after death was still moved by the curse.

In John Chapter 11 we witness the important event of the death of Lazarus. Among the few close friends who were not a part of his ministry team was Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. We are told that Jesus loved them, and while Jesus loved everyone to one degree or another, the Bible doesn't call out many in this special way. The four of them were tight. So when word reached Jesus that he best friend was ill and not expected to live, everyone was astonished that Jesus didn't depart immediately.

In reality, Lazarus probably passed the same day the messenger left to find Jesus, or the next day at the latest. Jesus knew this of course, and told the disciples the grim truth (verse 14). Two days later they set out for the grieving home, much to the consternation of the disciples. Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem, and the capitol city wasn't safe for Jesus. If Jesus were going to risk his life, they would risk their own too. Thomas summed it up dramatically, "Let us go too, so that we may die with him."

Upon his arrival, Martha is the first to great Jesus. In other Gospel accounts, we know that Martha was usually the one taking care of everyone else. She was politely chastised by Jesus who informed her that spending time with the Messiah was more important than pulling off dinner. She learned the lesson well, going to meet Jesus before going to tell her sister. Even so, while no one out-rightly blamed Jesus for the death of Lazarus twice it was mentioned that if he'd been there, if he could have traveled faster, death might not have come. When surrounded by darkness, it is easiest to lash out at the light.

What no one knew, what no one but Jesus could know, is that Lazarus' death was intended to serve a special purpose. For those unfamiliar with the story, Jesus foreshadowed the events back in verse three, “This sickness will not lead to death, but to God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” After speaking with the sisters and grieving alongside them, the pair took Jesus to the tomb. Upon his request, and over family objections, Jesus had the tomb opened.

John is very clear that Lazarus had died and been entombed for four days. Jewish readers would understand this detail. A Jewish tradition teaches that a person's soul stays with it's body for three days after death. By waiting until the fourth day, Jesus made sure that everyone understood Lazarus was fully and completely dead.

Jesus stands before the cave that was used for a tomb, Mary and Martha immediately behind him, eyes wet with tears. A crowd from the city, full of mourners, stood further back; no one wanted to breath in the expected stench. Jesus prayed out loud, speaking at a volume everyone could hear. This was more than a communication with the Father, it was an object lesson. When he finished praying Jesus shouted into the cave, "Lazarus! Come out!

This is Israel, not Egypt, so while it wasn't a mummy that carefully stepped into the daylight the man was wrapped hand and foot in burial clothes, and a cloth wrapped around his face. "Unwrap him!" Jesus commanded, "then let him go." This was no zombie, this was Lazarus completely healed, restored, and alive. John doesn't say so, but I think more than a few in the crowd gasped. Some of them believed in Jesus at that very moment, some were too filled with awe to know what to think, and still others slipped away to report the event to the Pharisees.

The scene then shifts from a tomb in Bethany to the Temple in Jerusalem where the chief priests and the Pharisees called a council meeting to discuss this latest miracle of Jesus'. What amazes me most is that not one of these men considered Jesus to be the Messiah. Not one. Instead, they worried about the politics of the situation. If Jesus continued on in this fashion and gained more followers, eventually Rome would intercede and remove the Temple's authority to rule local affairs. So no matter how much good Jesus did, no matter how many miracles he performed, no matter if he was the Son of God, he had to go.

Now Caiaphas was present in the capacity of the high priest. He was a man of politics and one who closely studied his opponents. "You know nothing!" he exclaimed as he rose to address the council. Then he did something surprising, he echoes Jesus (Mark 10.45) saying, "You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” Caiaphas and Jesus had different meanings, of course, but his plan was hatched from Jesus' own words. He may have even began crafting his plan when he heard Jesus speak. Sometime between then and the council meeting he claimed to have a prophecy of his own, that Jesus would die within the year. Was it true prophecy, or wishful thinking? John doesn't say, but it would come to pass either way.

John adds some explanation in a parenthetical statement, indicating that Jesus' sacrifice wasn't intended to save the nation from Rome, but all peoples from their sins. The ruling council didn't understand this, but now that they had voiced what they had all clearly been avoiding, a plan began to be hatched. They were one in purpose and desire; they prepared to kill Jesus.

We don't know how John knew what was said in the council meeting. Perhaps it was divine revelation, but I think the testimony came from a more earthly source. My guess — and that is all it is, a guess — is that Nicodemus informed John after the crucifixion. Although not named as being at the meeting, due to his high position Nicodemus was likely present and became a source for John's gospel.

Either way, the scene shifts back to Jesus and the disciples. John explains that Jesus stayed away from Judea, ministering elsewhere until his time had come.

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